Play is any activity that is engaged with for enjoyment as opposed to any serious or practical purpose. Play is one of the main ways in which children learn and make sense of the world around them. Play is essential to children’s physical social and emotional development and it’s importance is so widely recognised that it is a specific right for all children. I try to plan my forest school sessions so they are flexible and build in opportunities for plenty of free play.
In traditional schooling learning objectives and aims are shared with children every lesson. In my forest school sessions any underlying aim of the activity or session is often not discussed with the children. Activities that have no extrinsic goals, or certainly none that are shared with the children, support the idea that learning is an intrinsic part of life and promotes the value of play and creativity.
I like to play lots of games during my sessions and this gives lots of opportunity to role model a positive attitude towards play. It is important to allow children to guide games and play in the way they wish and I encourage them to do so.
Children learn in different ways and there are numerous learning theories that try to categorise these. Planning activities that are multi sensory increases understanding of and communication about the world around us. Activities that include different aspects, such as physical and imaginative, are more likely to engage all children and maximise developmental opportunities. The initial forest school sessions I run have a theme of exploring the woodland environment using all of the senses and I have found these are useful for establishing which elements suit which children.
I enjoy most sessions that are comprised of mixed age groups. This provides lots of opportunity for children to watch and copy people, both younger and older, and learn language and behaviour. Carefully observing these interactions allows you to learn each child’s body language and to guide play and further learning and development.
Play also gives adults the chance to learn how to play again themselves and how to incorporate themselves in children’s play without dictating it.